Oct 07, 2015 - 4:43pm

The AFL-CIO’s Seven Pernicious Principles

Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division


On October 5, the AFL-CIO released what it called the Seven Principles of Collective Action.  Quite simply, they call for a radical reshaping of our system of labor laws in a way that would harm workers, employers, and the economy. 

Some, naturally, are less substantial than others.  For example, Principle One is a subjective statement that “collective bargaining benefits working people, businesses, and our communities.”  It’s a debatable proposition, and the fact that only 6.6 percent of private sector workers are unionized suggests that a majority of Americans would disagree, but there’s not much of a call for policy change here.

Not so with Principle Two, which says that “labor law must be updated so that all working people have the right to engage in collective bargaining.”  What this refers to is the fact that certain workers, such as farmworkers and independent contractors, are not covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).  Extending coverage of the Act would require a substantive rewrite of the NLRA.

Principle Three says that workers should be free to exercise their rights without corporate interference.  Taken at face value, this is simply a restatement of existing law.  In reality, this may be a reference to the recently introduced WAGE Act, which aims to hammer employers with new penalties, resurrect the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) failed poster rule, send more labor disputes straight to federal courts, and make lead companies jointly liable for any violations of labor law by their subcontractors.  This again would represent a dramatic change to labor law.

Principle Four says that workers should be able to learn about the “benefits of forming a union” from a union representative.  Not a big deal there, but Principle Four goes on to say that such education should be allowed to take place in the workplace — in other words on employer property.  This is a call for union access, which would undermine the concept of property rights and be at odds with NLRB case law.

Principle Five states that workers should be able to decide for themselves how they demonstrate majority support for a union.  This is a not-so-subtle call for Card Check legislation, which at its heart is about stripping away the ability of workers to participate in a secret ballot election to decide union representation.  Instead of voting in private, unions want workers to declare their intentions by publicly signing a card in front of union organizers—subjecting them to possible intimidation and coercion.  Card Check was such a radical proposal that even a Congress controlled by Democrats with a filibuster-proof majority declined to bring it up for a vote (surprisingly it has actually been reintroduced).

Principle Six states that if a union is formed, a business should negotiate in good faith.  This already is the law.  Thus, what it seems Principle Six is meant to advocate is binding arbitration, as was found in the failed Card Check bill.  Under that legislation, if a union and a business failed to reach a first contract after 90 days, a government bureaucrat would set the contract by fiat.  Workers would lose the right to ratify the contract, which hardly seems fair to the employees the AFL-CIO claims to support.

Principle Seven says that “effective collective bargaining means that those with authority over wages, hours and working decisions have a seat at the table.”  Sounds reasonable to grant people a seat at the table.  But what Principle Seven is really about is endorsing the NLRB’s joint-employer standard, which seeks to make businesses liable for workplace they don’t control and workers they don’t employ.

The AFL-CIO’s Seven Principles contain a bit that’s old and a bit that’s new.  But add it all together and you have the ingredients for a radical rewrite of our nation’s labor laws in a way that would take away rights from workers and employers, hammer job creators with new penalties, and undermine successful business models.  Although most of this is unlikely to become law during the current Congress, one wonders if these principles aren’t intended to make their way into party platforms as the political season winds on.

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About the Author

Glenn Spencer Headshot
Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division

Glenn Spencer is senior vice president of the Employment Policy division at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.